Microsoft, Google European Privacy Concerns Could Affect U.S.

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2012-10-25 Print this article Print

Rainey Reitman, the activism director for the privacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that in general, the stricter privacy regulations faced by companies like Google, Microsoft and Twitter in Europe do have a ripple effect here in the U.S.

"European privacy law is significantly stronger than U.S. laws," said Reitman. "Companies from the U.S. are striving to meet those stricter regulations there. For example, in Europe there are standards around an individual's rights to access their own data, so companies have been incentivized to make it easy to get access to all the data that comps have about them."

Once that is done in a place like Europe, said Reitman, "there's no reason not to make them available to all your users all over the world. And we are already seeing that happen."

Google, for instance, created a "data liberation campaign," with a Website where users can access their searches and other content and remove it from Google's services, said Reitman. "The principle of being able to get your data out of a Google service comes directly out of these European data standards.  Google doesn’t have to offer these services to U.S. customers now, but they are already incentivized to create ways of getting your data out. It creates a pathway for users."

For U.S. users and their privacy, the tougher EU regulations are a good thing, said Reitman. But one problem that could arise is that if the EU rules get so tough to meet for companies like Google and Microsoft, the businesses might decide to create and maintain EU-specific privacy policies, which then might not necessarily trickle back to the U.S., she said.

"That’s what we don’t want, and that we want to avoid," said Reitman.

At a company event on Oct. 16, Google CEO Larry Page criticized the EU's recent actions against his company in regards to its privacy policies. Instead, it's too early and short-sighted to be limiting the possible scope of how such information can be used in beneficial ways at this point, said Page.

"Virtually everything that we want to do, I think, is somewhat at odds with, you know, locking down all your information for uses that you haven't contemplated yet," said Page. "So that's something I worry about. I think it's a very important thing."

The problem is "we don't actually know how the Internet's going to work 10 years from now," said Page. "So it's kind of, I think, a mistake to start carving out large classes of things that you don't really understand yet, that you don't want to let people do. I think that's kind of the approach that I think a lot of regulators are taking, which I think is sad."


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